House of the Spirits (Review)


The House of the Spirits
Isabel Allende, 1985
433 pp.

Book Review by Molly Lundquist
February 2008

Having just re-read this marvelous book after 18 years, I'd forgotten how much I liked it. Three generations of women populate the story and the eponymous "house of the spirits"—they make for fascinating and compelling characters.

The story begins with the death of the beautiful and unearthly green-haired Rosa, the only woman in the book whose name refers to a color. Her sister Clara (clear) eventually marries Rosa's fiance, Esteban Trueba—thereby beginning the line of women whose names signifiy white, Blanca and Alba.

Hot-tempered Esteban directs most of the action of the book and, to a large extent, the plot concerns how each of the three women react (or refuse to) under his control. It's very much a feminist work as we watch three women empower themselves in the face of masculine authority—cultural, sexual, economic and political. Sometimes it feels a little schematic—men bad, women good—and sometimes it plunges into melodrama, but...who cares? It's a wonderful book. (See our Reading Guide for a more detailed synopsis.)

Clara (the Clairvoyant) is the center of the book—and when she eventually dies, the family and house lose their vitality. The center does not quite hold without her. Gradually, the story takes on darker tones as it works toward the takeover of the country's duly elected socialist government, an obvious reference to the 1973 overthrow of Chile's Salvadore Allende (Allende's uncle). It's a gripping and frightful tale, sadly reflecting real-life events. In the end, though, redemption is achieved—and Clara's spirit returns.

House is a beautiful—and accessible—rendering of magical realism, and a graceful bow to Gabriel Garcia Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude. If you haven't read The House of the Spirits, do.

See our Reading Guide for The House of the Spirits.

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